FORT LAUDERDALE — Florida had the nation's second-highest rate of residents without health insurance with almost 1 out of 4 Floridians lacking it, according to new U.S. Census figures released Thursday.
Only Texas surpassed Florida's rate of 24.8 percent of residents under age 65 without health insurance in 2011, the most recent year figures are available, the census said.
Although that figure was down slightly from 2010, when 25.3 percent of Floridians were without health insurance, the rate of uninsured residents has inched up since 2008, when just over 24 percent of Floridians were without health insurance.
The half-decade spike in uninsured residents comes as the Republican-controlled Legislature ruled earlier this year not to expand Medicaid coverage to an estimated 1.1 million low-income Floridians under the federal health law.
In an unusual alliance, Gov. Rick Scott, Senate Republicans, Democrats, Florida hospitals, health advocates and a diverse mix of business and labor groups all supported a bill that would have drawn down more than $50 billion from the federal government over the next decade and allow Floridians to purchase private insurance. But leaders in the GOP-led Florida House refused to consider that proposal, saying they didn't want to take funds tied to President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.
Democrats and health advocates have since held town halls around the state pushing Scott to call a special session to discuss Medicaid expansion, but Scott has said he isn't planning to call one since House leaders haven't signaled a change of heart.
House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, warned in a statement Thursday that Republicans will pay a political price for failing to expand Medicaid.
"The Legislature's failure to expand health coverage continues to punish working families and small businesses throughout Florida. Governor Scott and other Republican leaders who say they want to improve Florida's business competitiveness and image can make great headway by reducing this state's abysmally high number of uninsured," he said.
Florida's large numbers of small businesses, which currently aren't required to provide health insurance, as well as its tourism-oriented economy with large numbers of workers in service jobs have contributed to its historic high rate of the uninsured.
That will change under the Affordable Care Act, which requires businesses with 50 or more employees to offer coverage. But the Obama administration recently announced it would delay that provision for another year. The law also requires individuals to carry health coverage starting in 2014 or face a roughly $100 fine.
Individuals can still go online and shop for insurance on the new state exchange starting Oct. 1.